Tenement – Curtains Closed (Stream)
by Steven Spoerl
Tenement have been more fundamental to the existence of this site than just about any other band currently going. Booking the band before they had any kind of physical record out was something I wrote about in detail in a piece that was included in the zine that came as an insert for the band’s recent early material compilation, Bruised Music, Volume 1. It was the first time I’d interacted with Tenement and that show remains one of my all-time favorites because of how thoroughly it reinforced that this was the kind of music I wanted to be involved with and support in any way I possibly could. After that show, the band repaid me in kind, time and time again, by booking the admittedly not-great band I was playing in at the time to play the venue they called home: The BFG.
At about an hour’s drive, it became something of haven, accessible and ceaselessly important to my musical development. It was through that venue I got to experience a full immersion into DIY culture, something that came equipped with authority conflict, a commendably defiant spirit, empathy, compassion, and a murderer’s row of great bills. The Figgs in a living room, Screaming Females, Sundials, Used Kids, Dead Dog, Little Lungs, and so many others in a basement, flyers covering up the majority of the house’s wall space, a Tom’s Drive-In across the street, and a dog with an American flag bandanna all became sights that felt like home. An insane assortment of records, everything from deep-cut free jazz to vintage soul to powerviolence, littered the place. One of my favorite sights, though, was the dusty, barely-tuned piano near the entrance to the basement.
That piano has appeared on multiple Tenement songs throughout the years (most notably the controversial “Medical Curiosity“, “The Cage That Keeps You In“, and the flipside of the Blind Wink cassette) and Predatory Highlights makes sure it’s not an instrument that’s not going to be leaving the band’s palette. While it may or may not be the same piano (it certainly sounds like it), it does have a similar beaten-down quality that complements the band’s ethos to a tee. Tenement is, above all else, a band hell-bent on celebrating life’s minutiae. The overlooked, the undesired, the inessential, and providing those things with such a sharp focus that they become something extraordinary. It can be the subject of a song or it can be an abused piano but Tenement, without fail, is able to embrace what most would consider flaws and shape them into something staggeringly beautiful.
It’s the note that “Curtains Closed”- their just-unveiled additional glimpse at Predatory Highlights– starts on (joined by some high-impact hand claps) and it’s one that’s sustained through the song. Amos Pitsch, the band’s guitarist/vocalist, artist, and driving creative force, sings with as much conviction as ever while the band’s music, which has long eschewed punk’s more traditional trappings for something far more adventurous, surges underneath his vocals. Pitsch has always belonged to a tier of songwriters whose work is informed more heavily by novelists than any other type of writer. Opening with a line like “Paper snowflakes on fire/seven deaths in a row/they burn up together” ensures that’s not something that’s likely to change, even as the band’s musicality continues to separate further from conventionality (which can also be attributed to the off-kilter approaches of the band’s rhythm section- made up of bassist/poet Jesse Ponkamo and drummer Eric Mayer- who remain one of the best units currently in operation).
For close to eight years now, this band’s been the very best the state of Wisconsin has had to offer and they’ve somehow managed to continuously improve. Evolving into something that both honors their past and opens up their future. Titus Andronicus’ monstrous double album may have the lion’s share of the attention now but don’t make the mistake of overlooking Predatory Highlights while its flame threatens to overtake the shadows where its been flickering for years. At 25 tracks, this is the most ambitious work of Tenement’s career- and if “Dull Joy” and “Curtains Closed” are anything to go by, it certainly seems like it will be their very best (as well as their defining moment).
As the band continue to pile on their willful disregard for genre expectations, the more exhilarating they become and that disregard seems to have hit a fever pitch without sacrificing any of the accessibility that made them so easy to identify with from the beginning. Now, more than ever, Tenement are a band that deserves as much attention as humanly possible- and “Curtains Closed”, brightly damaged melody and all, takes them a step closer to receiving the kind of recognition they’ve always deserved.
Listen to “Curtains Closed” below and pre-order Predatory Highlights before its June 2 release from Don Giovanni here.